What is a fracture?

A fracture occurs when a bone becomes cracked or broken; this can happen to any bone in the body.

Types of fracture

Fractures are commonly categorised as open (compound) or closed (simple); an open fracture is a clean break where only the bone is affected, while a closed fracture also affects the tissue and skin around the bone. There are several different types of fracture; the most common types of fracture include transverse, oblique, hairline, impacted, spiral, compression and stress fractures:

  • Transverse: a fracture straight across a bone.
  • Oblique: a tilted or diagonal fracture.
  • Hairline: this is a partial break and often affects only a small portion of the bone; these can be difficult to identify.
  • Impacted: this involves the fractured portion of bone being forced into another section of bone.
  • Spiral: this affects the area surrounding the bone.
  • Compression: this is a complete breakdown of the bone; it is most common in the spine.
  • Stress Fracture: this is a fracture brought about by repeated actions which increase pressure on the bones; these are most common in athletes.

Common fractures in sport

Fractures are common in sport, particularly in contact sports such as football and rugby. The most common injuries include fractured wrists, hands, collarbones and bones in the ankle and feet. Stress fractures are very common in sports which involve repetitive movements; long distance runners often suffer from stress fractures in the foot, for example.

Symptoms of fractures

Common symptoms include swelling, redness and pain; many fractures can be extremely painful and most will swell immediately. More complex fractures may break the skin; in this case the injury will be clearly visible and immediately diagnosable. Fractures generally restrict or prohibit movement in the area for a period of time; this will vary depending on the severity of the injury.

Treating a fracture

Treatment generally depends on the nature of the fracture but rest is universally recognised as the most important form of treatment. Initially ice will usually be applied to the affected area; this will help to reduce swelling. Anti-inflammatory medication and pain relief will also be prescribed to ease pain and further reduce swelling. In many cases, the fractures bone will be immobilised for a period of time; this may involve having a plaster cast fitted, wearing a sling or using crutches for example; this will allow the bone time to heal.

More complex fractures may require realignment which may involve using pins, wires or nails; these will help to fix the bone back in its original place. Once the healing process is nearly complete, a course of physiotherapy will usually be recommended; this will help to strengthen the area and improve flexibility and movement. Stress fractures require a long period of rest, which may last up to 8 weeks; this will enable the bone to heal and prevent further damage.

Preventing fractures

Having a healthy diet, exercising regularly and sticking to the recommended calcium intake will generally reduce the chances of suffering from a fracture; this will help to build strong bones and keep the body fit and healthy. Being overweight can put additional pressure on the joints and bones, which may make them more vulnerable to injury. Smoking can also contribute to bone loss and slow the healing process. Resting an existing injury can help to prevent any further damage to the affected bone.

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